Whole Systems Design
Permaculture is a design science, and in order to use if effectively, we have to become systems thinkers, and cultivate a designer's mind. The purpose of today's class is to open those doors for you.
In permaculture we use the terms "whole systems design," and "whole system design" (no s) interchangeably, to describe the overarching approach we use to make sense of a project. It is what it sounds like it is: a design that includes your whole system. Your system, your garden's system, your water supply's system, your climate's system, your economic and social systems, and so on.
Zones are patterns.
Sectors are patterns.
Human relationships are patterns.
And so on.
Your permaculture design is just a collection of patterns on paper, a puzzle to represent your best attempt at learning the language of your site and making proposals it can understand.
It's not even a metaphor to say that EVERYTHING is a pattern. Even chaos is a pattern. And your design will create patterns, whether you are aware of them or not.
Take ownership of the fact that every choice you make, every action you take, and a lot of the acts you avoid, are acts of design.
This is what we mean by cultivating a designer's mind, and truly, it's a radical act. If we work, daily, to learn the language of nature, we just might be able to negotiate the survival of our own species.
The fastest way to master a permaculture design process is to become aware of the ripple effects of your work.
Ok, so you did that module on Ethics and Principles, you made the pretty cards, now what?
The principles are not something you learn and then move on from, nor are they something you check memorize and obsess over. The principles are more essential than either end of that continuum. We don't USE them in our designs, we INTERACT with them.
Like Zoom-in/Zoom-out, mentioned above, being with the principles is a daily practice, evolving. Plus, anytime you need a way to solve a problem, you will most likely find something in the list to help you.
Did you download this comprehensive list of them yet?
Print it out. Put it in your pocket. Make it into a song. Challenge yourself to use every. single. one. in your design. Can you do it?
Even if you've already got a PDC and you're doing a social systems design as your main project, that project will still occur in a place, and that place--where you meet, where you do social stuff, where you live and eat and work, will influence and be influenced by your project.
This is especially if you're starting with your own homestead: permaculture starts where you are.
Before you choose the site you will use for this course, take a moment to imagine you're in a ceramics course. You've never done ceramics before. You show up every day for the whole 72class-hours of the course, and at the end of the first semester, you have a shelf filled with lopsided yet precious objects--the fruits of your hard work and scramble up the learning curve.
Years later, after a bunch more classes, and after practicing on your own for many hours, you look back at those lumpy ashtrays with the fondness of a mother, and also with the awareness that they represent but the tiniest tip of your potential
That's exactly what this design is: a clunky yet precious experiment that you should give your very best effort to, while still giving yourself plenty of heart-space to revel in, as a beginner. You're here to practice. Mastery comes later.
That being said, there is no need to fret about which site to choose. If you're a renter, just use the place you live right now. If you're a nomad, use the house you land at most often. If you're an inner-city apartment dweller, go out right now and find the nearest community garden.
Design Components Wish-List
Sometimes people have a lot of attachment to particular components in a potential design. You might find it impossible to envision your permaculture site without a pond, a solar bathhouse, a big greenhouse, and a hügelkultur. Ok, great. So how are those components solving problems? And how will they interconnect?
It is important that you analyze and evaluate each component you consider for a design, regardless of whether you just "love big greenhouses" or not. We'll get into the layers of analysis later, but for now, begin to see your site and your design as a system of components, and see the principles as tools for knitting that system together.
Here is a picture of the cards I made for working collaboratively with clients on their designs. You can try making similar ones and using them to play with ideas as you move through the design process.
Paradise Design Game
Make a list of every component you think you might want to include in your whole systems design. Components are the physical things that appear in your design.
For each item on your list, note which of the other components this item could somehow connect to.
Play with drawing it out. Don't worry about drawing maps to scale or getting all the details! Think of it more like a game, and make a drawing of your silly ultimate fantasy whole system design. Have fun with it and don't get too serious about the details, yet. If it helps, use the process like Rachel Lyn use above, and make a little card for every component, then shuffle them around a big imaginary map, or even place them on the site itself!
Have fun, and dream big!
These are the tangible pieces of your design project to have in hand before moving on to the next step.
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